Reconnecting with Teen Angst
“This fucking day fucking SUX!!!! Thursday May Fucking 27.”
It’s also worth noting that the rest of the entire 8”x11” piece of notebook paper is packed with the word “FUCK” written in teenage calligraphy.
I pulled out my elementary school diary from the bookshelf next.
It’s 2016, and I’m at my parent’s home in Northern California for Christmas. I’m sitting in the bedroom I lived in for 18 years, and I’ve just had the pleasure of finding my childhood diaries.
The cover of this second diary is less foreboding than my matte black high school diary already sprawled open in my lap. This diary is much smaller, with a teal cover and a calico kitten on the front. It explicitly says the word “Diary” on the front cover, and I remember buying it from a book fair when I was 7.
I flipped through a few pages and noticed that I had written an entry exactly three years to the day before the aforementioned profanity. It had been a much less stressful day for 10-year-old me. I had detailed the size of my crush’s ears and how cute I thought they were, ending the entry with “catch you on the flip side!” It’s also cute that I didn’t have the foresight to know that that crush would later go to rehab, have incredible anger issues, and temporarily become my drug dealer during summers home from college.
I continue reading from my elementary school diary. It’s heartwarming and hilarious to re-read my interpretation of playground politics, crushes, nicknames, secrets, friendships and feuds. Except the entire thing is not so subtly all about boys. There’s brief mention of CDs my friends and I wanted, namely Eiffel 65, Now That’s What I Call Music 3, and Eve.
Sitting on my childhood bed, reading this, I text my two best friends, Samantha and Hannah, who I’ve known since 1995 and who make several cameos in this diary. I text them that we need to make a drinking game immediately based on the diary discovery. I also texted my friend Rebecca, who I’ve known since preschool, to let her know I put her on the list of “people I like” in 1998. She’s still a person I like.
I keep reading.
It’s fun as hell to know that those problems or gripes or all-consuming crushes are no longer real. They’re figments of my picturesque childhood in sleepy Marin County. They are relics of a childhood that was full of rolling hills, animals, sleepovers, friendship bracelets, only child adventures, bike rides, reading, scraped knees and summer birthday parties. I’m the product of hippie parents who are going on 30 years of marriage. I attended public schools and always had friends. I wore an eyepatch in kindergarten, rode horses three days a week until I went to college and always did my homework on time. I was, and am still, loved by a strong community. I won life’s lottery the minute I came into this world on July 8, 1990.
I felt like a proper grownup reading these woes of childhood’s past. I have kissed countless boys since. I have consensually slept with many too, despite my disturbing fifth grade diary entry describing my dreams of “Danny sleeping with me.” I’ve moved on from my 10-year-old self’s heteronormative understanding of intimacy.
I opened the middle and high school diary again. I had been adamant that it was not a diary. “This book just contains thoughts, drawings, and I don’t know what else!” I had penned. I had also written poetry, designed my dream hot pink bedroom, and drawn broken hearts and crying faces. I wrote myself compliments as if they were quotes from other people, because teenage narcissism is real. I found lists I had made, adoringly titled “I Fucking Hated This Day” or “How Not To Spend Your Day.”
Allow me to set the scene. The year is 2004 and I’m a freshman in high school. Later this year I will get my period for the second time ever in geometry class, re-experiment with the eating disorder I tried in seventh grade, and try the South Beach Diet with my mom. I will also get braces for the second time and my breasts will grow roughly three cup sizes overnight, catalyzing a decade plus of wearing the wrong bra size.
On September 10, 2004, I had a bad day, as documented in the following diary entry.
- Woke up – got in a fight with my mom
- She made me walk to school, even though I’m a gimp (Author’s note: I had a cluster of warts painfully removed from my left big toe. All references to me being a gimp are directly correlated with the warts.)
- I got a C on my math quiz
- Had a pep rally and my fucking freshman class was so immature
- My friends went out to lunch without me, and during lunch I spilled water on myself
- Had to do P.E., even though I’m a gimp
- Had to finish a science project
- Had a pimp in my class keep telling me which boys thought I was “fine” (This was not actually a true statement.)
- Had the ugly fat kid hit on me
- Got whacked in the boob with a science textbook by the pimp (I really wish I could remember which 14-year-old boy I considered a “pimp.”)
- Had a chance to talk to my lover, didn’t take it (I had not yet had my first kiss at this point in life, let alone taken a “lover.”)
- Oh yeah, my friends went shopping with me after school
- And I realize how FAT I’M GETTING
The following Thursday also encapsulated everything that was unfair in the world. Please note I had also switched my verb tenses since the last entry.
- Wake up late
- Have a bad hair day
- Take a Spanish final
- Go on a lame ass bowling field trip, eat my heart out on a milkshake and fries, THEN feel really guilty about it
- Come back to SCIENCE CLASS
- Look really ugly without makeup in front of the person you have a major crush on (I drew a broken heart next to this bullet point.)
- Try to flirt, but you can’t with your so-called friend ALWAYS talking to him
- Go home to find out your mother fucking horse is lame and your lesson is cancelled (This just means my horse hurt his foot and can’t be ridden. It is also the most entitled sentence in this whole diary, I swear.)
- You didn’t get the present you said you would get (Actually, maybe this is the most entitled sentence.)
These entries didn’t make me feel like the adult I had been just moments earlier after reading my elementary school thoughts. These words didn’t make me laugh because I knew I had evolved and matured beyond them, and they didn’t make me want to text my friends or create a drinking game.
These words were harder to read, and not because of my disdain for science class or my newly wartless big toe. The words “fat,” “ugly” and “guilty” looked big and deliberate on the page.
I wanted to reach out and hug the young girl who let those words define her, and then I wanted to scold her for letting that toxic thinking hijack her formative years. I wanted to give her a lecture about the beauty of individualism and gratitude and independence, and to like boys that value those traits above all else. I wanted to tell her she was wrong for obsessing over her body, for over-analyzing all of her interactions with boys and for thinking she was ugly without makeup. I wanted to tell her not to immediately discredit the boy who told her that other boys thought she was “fine,” and to tell her to be nicer to herself.
But that lecture was hard to mentally formulate in present day, because I know there’s still a part of my adult brain that believes these exact words my teenage self wrote.
As an adult I still binge eat and feel guilty. I’m single and I still obsess over communications with men, swearing off dating every year. I frantically apply makeup on my way to work because there is not a world in which I feel put together without BB cream, a strong brow and mascara. And while I don’t draw broken hearts in a diary, or write my crush’s parent’s home address and phone number down in case of emergency, I still resonate with these words over a decade later. (And for the record, there is nothing that feels less cool or more poetic than sitting in your old childhood bedroom, reading your childhood diaries and shutting the door to cry as a grown-ass woman.)
The dissociative part of my brain saw this as my rom-com character’s “A-HA” moment. The moment where I put the sugar cookie down, throw all my vices in a trashcan, go on an adrenalin-fueled run and start a brand new diary. This is my character realizing her potential, right?
Well, the reality is that my “A-HA” moment takes a few days and is riddled with a lot of anxiety. Changing your tune as an adult sucks, but I knew that as 2016 came to an end I was feeling more bloated and bitter than ever. I needed to actually respond to my inner teenager’s fears and truths, and it needed to be meaningful. I’d learned how to fake confidence by the time college rolled around, but the effects of body-con dresses, drunk booty calls and a validating letter-grade curriculum can only last so long. My character needed to– for the first time probably ever– own up to her feelings and become a better version of herself.
Like the bullet-point list maker that you’ve come to know and love by now, I made a plan of action. The New Year was going to bring about a new me, clichés be damned. I set out to do the following:
- Commit myself to the Whole30 program for January. I wanted to address and explore my feelings of guilt around food and the shame associated with binging. I gave anorexia and bulimia a real try in middle school and again in college, and I needed to learn for myself the fundamentals of a nutritious diet. For 30 days I would eliminate alcohol, added sugar, soy, dairy, grains, legumes and all processed foods.
- Start therapy. I wanted to understand how years of internalizing and normalizing self-loathing had impacted my relationships.
- Continue to communicate. I wanted to start being honest with what I want from relationships. I broke up with all of my hookups. I was done pretending I didn’t want a relationship and I’d reached my capacity for being casual with just anyone.
Writing this essay was another important step. For me, words make the most sense in times of turmoil and chaos. It started with my old diaries, so it only made sense for this experiment to end with reflection and more words. Although this time I was going to start with a gratitude journal to focus on the positive forces around me, rather than the negative.
Today my body has never felt better, and my brain more clear. I know this is a result of the healthy foods I’ve been eating. I’ve also had a number of sessions with my therapist. He makes me cry, but allows me to be honest. I found a horse to ride weekly, which has been my preferred form of therapy most of my life. My bosses and parents have since commented on my positive attitude. I haven’t used a dating app this year, and that’s okay. For the first time ever, I’m confident that my other half is out there, and that he will appreciate my individualism, gratitude and independence.
I can’t say that I’m cured from the toxic thinking that starts out so young. I have to actively work to not seek solace in carbs, not see other women as competition and not to call myself names. The point of this “A-HA” moment is that it’s just the beginning. Real life change is slow, but I’m getting there… despite how many sucky May 27’s I may live through.